Home News Opinion: This country’s tarnished legacy with veterans, reservists

Opinion: This country’s tarnished legacy with veterans, reservists

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Marine Reserves Celebrate

This country has made a promise to the men and women who have served in its , but we still have too many instances in which the promise has fallen short.

Consider a pair of recent examples that caught our eye:

First, you might have noticed our story in Sunday’s newspaper about area Corps reservists who deployed to the Honduras, where they built a schoolhouse, renovated a hospital and completed a number of other projects during the six-month stint.

When they returned to the area in November, an unpleasant surprise greeted the reservists: Unlike the regular who took part in the deployment, the reservists would not be receiving any credit toward their G.I. Bill and other benefits for their months of active duty, even though they were doing exactly the same things that regular were doing.

The reservists were caught unawares by a new legal authority that allows the to call up reservists and National Guard members for active duty without any obligation to provide traditional benefits such as Post-9/11 G.I. Bill education assistance, early retirement and health insurance.

Those benefits, of course, are key incentives when it comes time to recruit the citizen who provide a crucial backup for America’s regular .

This new legal authority may save the a buck or two in deployment costs. But it could easily come back to bite the , as word gets out among potential recruits that some of the benefits that go with signing up may not be available to them. Besides, we find it hard to believe that the cannot cut costs in some other area before it removes benefits that likely played a role in luring recruits in the first place.

This country also owes a debt to veterans who have suffered health problems that are almost certainly related to their service. Yet, again and again, we see the same pattern: government officials dragging their feet until they’re finally shamed into doing the right thing.

Here’s the latest example: According to an article in the December issue of the New Republic, tens of thousands of Iraqi and Afghanistan veterans were exposed to smoke and soot from hundreds of open burn pits that burned essentially all the trash of the war; the pits, operated by contractor Kellogg Brown & Root, continued to burn even after the government sent cleaner-burning incinerators to U.S. bases.

Writer Jennifer Percy reports that as early as 2004, who served near the pits started reporting a variety of symptoms, including asthma, sinusitis, bronchitis, lesions and chronic infections. Many of the coughed up black mucus; some of them called the substance “Iraqi crud.”

No wonder: Much of the waste burning in the pits was toxic. Burning it, Percy reported, released an array of pollutants, including particulates, volatile organic compounds, hydrocarbons and neurotoxins. Jet fuel often was used to start the trash burning.

The official response of the Veterans Administration is that research to date does not show evidence of long-term health problems from exposure to the pits. But that position ignores research strongly suggesting that exposure to the burn pits may have triggered health problems among veterans.

Anyone who followed the government response to Agent Orange is familiar with this pattern of denial and delay. It could well be that the goal is to forestall what could amount to billions of dollars in claims from injured veterans.

Our veterans deserve better than that. Our reservists deserve better than that. We ask so much from the men and women in the , and then we repay their sacrifices by shortchanging them? That isn’t right. (mm)

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